The closest thing you'd ever find to a modern day version of P.T. Barnum's museum was the Freakatorium in Manhattan. The Freakatorium was founded by sword swallower, fire-eater, and illusionist Johnny Fox. Sadly, the Freakatorium closed in 2005, a victim of gentrification, and Fox died last December. Next month, Fox's extensive collection of Freakatorium exhibits will go up for auction in Chicago. Gabe Fajuri of Potter and Potter Auctionsm knew Fox from the magic community. He tells us about some of the Freakatorium articles that will be available.
Collectors of so-called oddities will have the most fun pawing through the catalog of Fox’s collection. Take, for example, “Fluffy,” the mummified cat, which, according to the auction catalog, “traveled in sideshows for many years after being discovered during the demolition of an old building in New York.” Or, a vintage shrunken head: The one displayed at the Freakatorium as the genuine article was more likely an early 20th-century facsimile made in South America of various leathers and human hair. Perhaps you prefer a wax head instead? Fox owned the disembodied wax heads of Mao Zedong, Julius Caesar, Stephen F. Austin, and Sir Walter Raleigh, all made in the ’60s by the Gems of London, which specialized in such figures for exhibition. Another highlight is a bezoar stone removed from the intestinal tract of Wexy, a royal war horse that died at Waterloo in 1815; bezoars were thought to be useful antidotes to poison. And then there’s a Victorian-era embalming table, an antique chastity belt, a dish of glass eyes, and so much more.
Fajuri believes the breadth of the collection will appeal to everyone, from educational institutions to “weirdos.” “There’s some interesting material here that is suitable for a library, and then there’s, you know, conjoined fetal pigs in a jar,” he says. “That’s just something somebody wants to post on Facebook and say, ‘Look what I got!’”
If you are interested in rare oddities, ephemera, and memorabilia from the circus and sideshow era, you may want to attend the auction. At the very least, you'll want to see a gallery of Freakatorium items and read about the erstwhile museum at Collectors Weekly.